Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sun Bursts

Photography is a continuing learning process both in terms of technique and creativity. In a significant way, the process is about acquiring tools and tricks, some of them tangible. For instance, since getting more interested in land/waterscape compositions and using a wide angle lens, I have acquired several "gadgets" that lend themselves to the creative process. The most obvious among these are the filters.

Gadgets aside, there are plenty of "in-the-field" technique tricks that I have learned along the way as well. I sometimes think of them as recipes. One recipe is for making a sunburst by using a very narrow aperture, such as f20 or f22. By narrowing the opening through which light enters the lens, light diffracts or bends around the edges of the aperture blades. The more blades in the lens, the more rays created. This effect works best with a wide angle lens or low focal length. The effect is very nice and sometimes quite spectacular looking. A sunburst can add some life to an otherwise boring sun. This could be one that is relatively high in the sky, such as this one.

Or it could be when the sun is low on the horizon and the chances of capturing a colorful sky are higher. Here in Florida, clouds are almost always present. Clouds can make or break a sunset or sunrise image in my opinion. For instance, during summer I often look east over Biscayne Bay to capture the sun rising over the water. What I am typically seeing are low lying clouds directly over the horizon line, covering the rising sun. The result is often a lack of color or specular light (those rays that shine through the cloud breaks). If you get lucky, the clouds are separated enough to allow some of the sun rays to shine through. Add some color to that and it can be amazing. This is also when creating sunbursts can add interest, such as this image recently taken on Biscayne Bay. The sky that morning was not particularly colorful because of the low lying cloud formations, but adding some burst to the sun as it eventually peeked through the clouds created a focal point of interest and helps balance the composition with the two rocks in the foreground.

Trees or rocks in the foreground that offer an opening for the sun to peek through can make a sunburst more interesting. Here in Florida, we have lots of trees. If it is a waterscape the tree will most likely be a mangrove, such as this little one on Biscayne Bay. I created the ripples in the water.

It sounds too easy to make a sunburst in the field. So what is the catch? First of all, narrowing the aperture to f20 or f22 reduces the light significantly. This requires an adjustment to the exposure, either increasing ISO or reducing the shutter speed. I mostly capture waterscape scenes and much prefer long exposures anyway, so a narrow aperture actually assists in that. Photographers talk miles about how a narrow aperture reduces sharpness because of the diffraction of light through a narrow opening. But honestly, I don't see that, I believe it had more to do with the lens quality. With the right lens f20-22 should not be a noticeable reduction in sharpness. The bottomline is, I see no noticeable compromise when setting the aperture to f 20 or f22. Next time you are our photographing the sun, think about the sunburst and give it a try. If you are use to shooting at f8 or f11, consider that you will need 2 to 3 stops more light when you reduce the aperture opening to f22. This will most likely require a slow shutter speed, so make sure you got your camera on a tripod.